Delaware’s sister state devastated by tsunami

Devastating images are pouring in from Japan after a massive earthquake and tsunami.  One of the most affected areas is in Delaware’s sister-state of Miyagi Prefecture.

Sendai City, the capital of Miyagi, was hit hard by the tsunami that was a result of the earthquake that registered 8.9 on the Richter scale.  Up to 300 bodies were found in Sendai city, according to the Japanese news agency Jiji.  The earthquake and tsunami caused a large area of the city’s waterfront to catch on fire.

The disaster hits home for government and business leaders here in Delaware, who had recently welcomed a delegation from Miyagi to the First State as part of a business exchange program.  Governor Jack Markell issued a statement on the disaster saying, “This is a terrible tragedy with unimaginable damage. Our thoughts and prayers are with them as they work to stabilize the situation, continue to move people to safety and, eventually, rebuild.”

Markell and Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock were among the leaders in attendance at last month’s “Delicious Healthy Miyagi” event at Dover Downs.  State and business leaders were able to sample food from Miyagi.  Delaware businesses were expected to take their products to Miyagi for a similar tasting event of Delaware products in Japan.

As director of International Trade and Development for the Delaware State Department, John Pastor has been to Miyagi numerous times.  “It is a tragedy,” Pastor says.  “However, on the positive side, we have received written confirmation from the Miyagi Prefecture government.  Our contacts have emailed us to tell us that everybody was safe, most of the people that we know are safe and it was a lot of damage.” Pastor says this fall’s trip for Delaware businesses to Miyagi is still on the schedule as of right now.  He says they’ve offered to assist their Japanese counterparts in any way they can.  “Once they’ve determined what type of assistance they need, we’d be more than happy to see if we can accomodate and facilitate that.”

Delaware signed a sister-state agreement with Miyagi in 1997.  In 2009, Secretary of State Bullock signed an economic exchange agreement with Miyagi Director-General Masahiro Wako during a visit to Delaware.

UD Students in Japan

Four University of Delaware students got a front row seat for the earthquake.  Two UD exchange students are in Soka, and two are studying in Seinan, Japan.  

One of those exchange students is Paul Mussoni, son of WHYY’s John Mussoni.  Paul sent his family an email early this morning describing the situation as only a college student trying to keep his parents calm can: “There was a lot of shaking for about 30 seconds, but I’m fine and there was no damage. There was also a major Tsunami up north, but fortunately it came nowhere near here.”

This is the second time this year University of Delaware students have been on the forefront of an international event.  Last month, two groups of UD students were studying in Egypt when that nation fell into political turmoil that eventually ended in the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  

Tsunami Science

James Kirby has been watching the tsunami coverage on cable news with more of a technical eye than most.  Kirby is the Edward C. Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware.  Even as someone who studies tsunamis and their impact, Kirby says watching the footage of what’s happening in Japan is upsetting, “We’ve seen lots of pictures of burning natural gas storage facilities, fairly large ships tossed around, so it’s obviously very distressing.” 

Kirby says Japanese researchers are leading the effort to predict when earthquakes and tsunamis may occur.  That capability would lead to earlier warnings of potential danger.  “The ability to do that is growing slowly, and the Japanese, because they are very heavily impacted by these events are actually sort of the world leaders in making progress and being able to do that,” Kirby says.

Researchers at the University of Delaware are working on a study funded by the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program to examine the probability of a similar event happening on the East Coast.  He says, “Once there is an assessment that certain risks do exist, then we’re also involved in going through the process of trying to construct worst case inundation maps for use by emergency planners.”  Determining the risk to the East Coast has been difficult because there’s very little historical information about prior tsunami events in the Atlantic Ocean.  But, Kirby says, it is possible for a tsunami to hit the Atlantic coastline.  


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